The outbreak of bird flu in the United States, which killed more than 40 million chickens and turkeys and contributed to soaring egg and meat prices, appears to be easing, but experts warn that the virus has not disappeared and worries it could hold a new leap this fall.
The number of birds caught to limit its spread fell from a peak of almost 21 million in March to less than 800,000 in May. However, more than 2 million birds were killed this month after infections were found on two large farms in Colorado.
“The numbers on the board really tell a story, but we are not ready to say that the epidemic is over,” said Richard Cocker, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection. “We remain vigilant and encourage producers to continue to practice strong biosecurity.”
Some government and industrial officials are optimistic that the epidemic is over, although no one is fully prepared to relax.
This was said by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Nig virus it is still a risk as more cases are reported, but that “we really feel like we are in line for this year”.
When a case of a highly pathogenic virus is detected, officials kill the entire herd to limit its spread. The virus does not differentiate between backyard herds and massive egg farms; herds of all sizes were infected.
Iowa, the nation’s leader in egg production, was the hardest hit state with 13.4 million birds lost. No cases have been reported in the state since May 4, possibly due to migrating wild birds, who are accused of spreading the virushave moved from Iowa.
Nebraska lost nearly 4.9 million birds, Pennsylvania lost 4.2 million, and Colorado saw 3.6 million birds killed. Minnesota and Wisconsin lost about 3 million each.
The outbreak in 2015, which killed 50 million turkeys and chickens, remains the most costly animal disaster in US history. The government then spent nearly $ 1 billion to deal with infected birds, clean barns and compensate farmers. The USDA has so far approved $ 793 million to cover the costs this year.
A spokesman for the Turkish National Federation, Beth Breeding, said the government’s payments “do not allow these losses to be catastrophic”, but they do not cover everything. For example, farmers lose income because they cannot keep birds while their property is disinfected.
Food prices have risen 10% overall this year, beating inflation by 8.6% last month. Egg prices rose the most, by 32%, while poultry prices rose by nearly 17%. But agricultural economists say that while bird flu epidemic jumps in feed, fuel and labor costs are much bigger factors.
This did not help that the epidemic reached its peak, just when the demand for eggs was highest around Easter, which led to higher prices.
But a relatively small part of the national herd was affected. The 40 million birds killed represent only 6% of the chickens raised for egg production, 2.5% of the turkeys and less than 1% of the chickens raised for meat production.
Economists expect egg and meat prices to fall this summer as farms are able to rebuild their herds.
“I think there will be some relief,” said Jada Thompson, an agricultural economist at the University of Arkansas.
The summer heat should help eradicate the disease, but experts worry that the latest version of the virus may be hardy enough to survive the season, leading to a new outbreak when wild birds migrate later in the year.
“We may have an even bigger peak this fall, who knows?” Said David Stolknecht, a researcher at the University of Georgia. “The honest answer is that we do not know what the future holds, but the decline in poultry trade reports is encouraging.
The prospects for a bird flu vaccine are uncertain; foreign markets are reluctant to import meat from inoculated birds, and vaccination can hide the presence of the virus, which means farmers will have to spend more to increase tests on their flocks. And vaccinated birds can still get sick, just like vaccinated people.
“Personally, I don’t see the vaccine as something to be used in the United States,” said John Clifford, the former U.S. chief veterinarian who oversaw the USDA’s response to 2015. outbreak. “Countries that do not export may feel differently. We cannot afford to lose these markets.”
There are so many farmers who can do to limit the spread of bird flu. Agricultural workers now usually have to take a shower and change clothes before entering the barn, and the tools for each barn are kept separately.
Emily Metz, chief executive of the American Egg Board, said some farmers have invested heavily in fighting the virus, including upgrading ventilation systems and installation of laser light prevention systems wild birds.
“If he delays or returns, we are prepared. We will not lower our guard,” Metz said. “The improvements our manufacturers have made to biosecurity are part of their day-to-day business.”
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